One of the best groups in Motown's history recording some of the most beloved Motown songs of all time; Sounds like an instant classic, right? Sadly, the full potential was lost in the execution or rather at the recording and mixing boards. The thing that spoils half of this release is the progress made in recording since these songs were originally hits-- Namely, Motown's secret weapon, The Funk Brothers, were replaced with computer instruments that not only sound hollow and fake, but at some points sound like someone let their kid loose in the studio with a cheap midi keyboard.
To add insult to injury, where a little backing music is called for, Benjamin Wright, one of the two producers that worked on this album, tossed in everything but the kitchen sink. It is readily evident on the Smokey Robinson classic "Ooo Baby Baby," where they nailed the vocals perfectly but the vocals are drowned out by an excessive use of computer generated "music" that make the accompaniment sound like karaoke backing tracks done to the distraction. Perhaps Wright was trying to modernize the sound to differentiate these covers from the originals but in the end, it shows that so-called technical progress in music recording may indeed be a huge step backwards. Computer generated music has come a long way and has a place in some genres but sadly they lack the soul needed for these numbers where a FULL live band on all of the tracks could have made this a landmark album.
Luckily, only the Benjamin Wright produced half this album is plagued by this major shortcoming. Ironically, it was the younger producer Steve "The Scotsman" Harvey that handled these classics old school with a real band (Harvey's Everyday People combo) backing the vocals and the difference is unmistakable. The music is full and lush but not overpowering and not distracting the way veteran Wright's production ended up. His magic touch accomplishes the almost impossible task of making some of these classics sound new and injecting them with an almost live feel and energy. Marvin Gaye would be proud of the treatment of "Can I Get A Witness" and the risky task of translating the Supremes to male vocals is pulled off beautifully. But Harvey's production style really comes through on one of the best tracks on this album, the cover of Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of a Broken Hearted," where the vocals are allowed to carry the day and the accompaniment is perfectly subdued but well executed. Harvey is becoming a household name as a hot up-and-coming producer and his old school approach on this album goes a long way to explaining that praise. His work is worthy of the history of this group and it's hard to imagine Smokey or Norman Whitfield, who produced most of the classic Temp hits, doing a better job on these songs.
Vocally the Temptations are in top form, while you can't easily replace the unmistakable voices of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams or Melvin Franklin, the only surviving original Temp, Otis Williams doesn't settle for second best when it comes to his group and he has filled those big shoes with some impressive vocalists. G.C. Cameron (the Spinners) is worthy of superstardom of his own and really shines on the Harvey produced half of this album but is done a real disservice on the Wright half. Ron Tyson is no slouch either, but his shining moment when he does an amazing job on "Ooo Baby Baby" is destroyed by the production.
This album really is the tale of two producers, one with the best of sounds and the other with worst of sounds. The Harvey produced half does the Temptations and these Motown classics proud and that alone makes this album worth picking up. On the other hand, the Wright produced half showcases what has gone terribly wrong with modern R&B. In a way, his treatment is a backhanded compliment to the Funk Brothers as it really shows how integral their music was to these original hits, and the fact that they can't easily be replaced by computers with a madman behind the controls. As for the Temptations, they show throughout this album that they still have the magic that made them a worldwide sensation so long ago.